A Quick Look At Tech Romancer

You have to hand it to Capcom. The Japanese firm really did pull it out of the proverbial bag when it came to putting top notch games out on the Dreamcast. Man, just imagine the Dreamcast without Capcom. There'd be no Power Stone, no Street Fighter, no Resident Evil. Gunbird 2, Mars Matrix, Marvel Vs Capcom...they're all a result of Capcom throwing pretty much everything and the kitchen sink at Sega's system. Capcom were pretty damn cool back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, eh?

One game that rarely gets a mention though, is mecha fighter Tech Romancer; a 3D one-on-one brawler with a slightly ridiculous name but which exudes a level of production value rarely seen in an original franchise without an anime or manga heritage to fall back on. Furthermore, it might sound like a game in which Metal Gear Rex sends C-3PO a bouquet of roses and a box of chocolates, but to dismiss Tech Romancer on name alone would be a big mistake.
Upon booting Tech Romancer (known as Chronicle of Super Steel Warrior Kikaioh in Japan), you're greeted with an overly enthusiastic title screen and intro sequence that feels straight out of a 1980s Saturday morning cartoon that was appropriated from the Far East and syndicated; but only after being dubbed dubiously into English without a single fuck given. The only thing missing is the tracking interference regularly seen on VHS tapes you used to get from Blockbuster that had already been watched and rewound several thousand times before you rented it.
Herein lies the great deception though, for this game and all of its perceived heritage is nought but folly. Just like Wainhouse Tower, Tech Romancer and all of its apparent lore is a fabrication of something grander. While it may appear to be a game based on some obscure cartoon series you didn't know existed (because you're just not cool enough, frankly), Tech Romancer is a totally original IP that was created just for the arcade original, and this subsequent console release. All of the robots and animation sequences were designed by Studio Nue, a well-known animation studio responsible for some of the most widely regarded and respected anime productions around; and it's down to this mastery that you be forgiven for thinking you'd completely missed something awesome.
As an example of pure aesthetic genius, in which pedigree and kudos is demanded from its audience from the off, Tech Romancer is an unadulterated lesson in how to get things totally spot on...

Happily, things aren't derailed when the game proper begins...but more on that later. The bubblegum-hued menus, the funky music, the retro-futuristic vibe all combine to make Capcom's title a real joy to behold before you've even really dived into the main meat of the experience. There a total of xx mechs to choose from initially (it's hard to tell with the differing number of pilots and variations), and the central single player mode is split into two modes: a full on story mode complete with dialogue screens and intertwining stories that link the various pilots together; and a straight-up arcade mode where you battle enemy robots in sequence with no story threads to worry about. What's especially cool is that some of the robots have multiple pilots and their own mechs, and there is dialogue that gives Tech Romancer an almost Pacific Rim feel. Again, this is amplified even further when the story mode introduces non-playable foes who are also on a gigantic scale and which must be dispatched with a well aimed rocket or metallic fist before moving on.
Gameplay wise, Tech Romancer isn't really on the sort of fluid, beginner-friendly level as Soul Calibur. However, it's a different type of fighter and ranged weaponry takes priority over getting up close and personal. The vast majority of the mechs are capable of firing lasers, missiles or body parts across the screen to connect with a metal jaw or arse; but if the situation requires you to get all up close and personal (up in someone's grizzle, for example), unloading with body shots and uppercuts then you can take that route too. To be honest, this feels more satisfying than firing rockets from the other side of a city block and gives an even more authentic Pacific Rim feel...only pre-Pacific Rim. Am I mentioning Pacific Rim too much?
On top of the awesome Earth-shaking fights and 'easy to pick up, difficult to master' gameplay, there is a whole system of power-ups and special attacks that can assist you in your metal-mangling quest. Theatres of battle range from cityscapes and deserts to off-world bases, while all the time an outstanding anime-influenced thread runs through the game. Honestly, it sometimes gets a bit overwhelming as neon-coloured icons pop and sparkle around the HUD, lightning-tinged explosions erupt across the landscape, and super attacks invoke the type of sequences not seen outside of the most hardcore anime series (those with epilepsy probably shouldn't play Tech Romancer - seriously). However, all of these components combine to create an utterly fantastic experience that really does feel like something that is far bigger that the sum of its parts.
Visually, Tech Romancer is a bit of a mix - while the pyrotechnics are abundant, and the menus and animation sequences are of stellar quality, the whole package when you're actually fighting is a little underwhelming. The mechs themselves have a sort of Rival Schools look to them, with bright colours and low resolution detailing. The sense of scale too is a little lacking in some of the stages - the cityscapes in particular are a little stingy when it comes to high rise tower blocks. Still, it is by no means an ugly title, it just isn't up there with stuff like Dead or Alive 2 or Soul Calibur.
If Tech Romancer were the officially licensed video game of some highly regarded anime classic, then it would undoubtedly be heralded and paraded as the pinnacle of the screen-to-game genre. But that it has no such history and could still coerce the unknowing into thinking it was...that's pretty fucking incredible. The cut scenes, story and aesthetic of Tech Romancer combine well with the fun gameplay, interesting play modes and outstanding level of unlockable content to create one of the best hidden gems on the Dreamcast. If you like fighting games and you like mechs, this should be on your shopping list...and even if you don't like those things Tech Romancer should be on your shelf.
What do you think? Are you a fan of Tech Romancer? Let us know in the comments or join the conversation in our Facebook group or on Twitter.

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4 comments:

DCGX said...

This was actually one of the DC games I've had the longest, but I've only ever played it twice. It is a bit clumsy to me, but the presentation, as described, is fantastic. Gotta love Capcom during the DC years.

SkillJim said...

Owned this game since it’s launch and I really hold it as one of my favourites on the Dreamcast. Something about the game really appealed to me back in the day as I remember it taking a while to get used to the controls and the way to fight. As soon as it clicks it’s pretty much bread and butter for playing with any of the characters and playing through each of their stories!

You mentioned loads of unlockables and there definitely were! This is back when games used to reward you for putting time and effort into enjoying everything there was to offer, rather than like these days, pay for the privileage. Theres some wonderful extra content, from VMU games to art galleries! I forget what the VMU games were actually, but I remember playing them more than others at the time! Was hoping that you’d have refreshed my memory of them in the article Tom but still a great article and i’m glad you enjoyed the game! I don’t feel like people would give it much of a chance playing it today, but it’s definitely a game that needs alot of hours sunk into to truely appreciate it! - although astehtically yes, you can probably appreciate it instantly :)

hoogafanter said...

I really gotta give this game a chance. Looks like alot of fun...

Playing Mantis said...

Hey Tom, please don't draw more attention to Tech Romancer, it is already expensive enough as it is! Please delete this news article! LOL

Some more info on Tech Romancer:

It was another better than arcade perfect Dreamcast port. Like Soul Calibur, the arcade version of TR was on Playstation 1 based hardware.

There was an Online for Matching Service version released in Japan alongside the regular local multiplayer version.

There is actually some history behind Tech Romancer. Some characters originated in earlier Capcom mecha games. This is the procession:

Battle Circuit (maybe one character made it to next game?)
Armored Warriors / Powered Gear (2D beat em up with customized bots)
Cyberbots (2D Fighter with some customization)
Tech Romancer